- » Overview
- » When a baby dies before labour begins
- » How you might feel
- » Talk to someone
- » Grief and children
- » Telling your family and friends
- » Memories and keepsakes
- » A ceremony for your baby
- » Deciding about a post mortem
- » Deciding about a funeral
- » Leaving hospital - going home
- » Taking your baby home
- » Postnatal check-up
- » Rights and benefits
- » Getting a copy of your medical notes
- » Mainly for fathers
- » Information for grandparents
- » For family and friends
- » Returning to work
- » Another pregnancy?
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- » Personal experiences
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Creating memories and keepsakes
When someone we love dies, we often share memories and stories of them with other people. We may treasure certain objects that remind us of them and the times we had together. When your baby has died around the time of birth, you may only have a few memories of him or her. You may also have very few physical mementoes.
Hospital staff now offer parents opportunities to create memories and to collect mementoes that will help them to remember their baby. Although you may feel unsure about the things they suggest, many parents have told us how precious photos and other items can be, especially in the years to come. Having things to show family members and friends may also help them to understand what the death of your baby means to you. The staff caring for you will suggest a range of things you could do. Take the time to think about what is right for you. If, for any reason, you don’t want to do what they suggest, please tell them.
You may also have other ideas about what you want to do. If your baby died in the neonatal unit, you may have had time to start doing some of the things that we mention here.
Naming your baby
Many parents decide to name their baby. This gives the baby his or her own unique identity and can make it easier to talk about him or her. Some decide not to give their baby a name or to continue to use a nickname that they used during the pregnancy. When a baby is very premature, it can be very difficult for staff to determine the sex straight away. In this case, you may prefer to wait until the sex can be confirmed by a specialist or at a post mortem before choosing a name. Or you could decide to choose a name that is suitable for both a boy and a girl.
Seeing and holding your baby
If your baby lived for a short while, or was admitted to a neonatal unit, you may have held and cuddled your baby before he or she died. If your baby died before or during the birth, the midwife or nurse will usually ask if you would like to see and perhaps hold him or her.
The idea of seeing and holding your baby may seem very odd or frightening, especially if you have never seen a dead person before. But for many parents, the time they spend with their baby becomes their most precious memory and an experience that they would not have missed for the world. If you want to see your baby and no one has suggested it, just ask the staff caring for you.
Some parents decide not to see their baby. Or one partner wants to see the baby while the other does not. This is a very individual decision and neither of you should be under any pressure to see your baby if you don’t want to. The most important thing is for each person to decide what feels right for them.
If you are not sure about seeing your baby or are anxious about how your baby will look, you could ask the staff caring for you to tell you what he or she looks like. You could ask to see a photo of your baby first. You could also ask the midwife or nurse to wrap or wash and dress your baby before you see him or her. Even babies with a visible abnormality can be carefully wrapped or dressed so that the abnormality is not obvious.
However, if your baby died quite a long time before the birth, his or her appearance may have been affected. If this has happened the midwife or nurse will discuss this with you when your baby is born. If you are not sure if you want to see your baby, you could see just his or her hand or foot.
If you decided not to see your baby but have now changed your mind, just tell the staff caring for you if you are still in hospital. If you are at home, ring the labour ward or the contact number you were given before leaving the hospital. The staff can then arrange for you to see your baby. This will usually be in a special room for relatives in the mortuary. Bear in mind that your baby’s appearance will change with time.
Washing and dressing your baby
If you would like, and depending on your baby’s size and condition, you may be able to wash and dress him or her yourself. You could also ask the midwife or nurse to do it for you. You may want to bring something from home for your baby to wear. If your baby is very small, the hospital will usually be able to supply suitable clothing: most units keep a stock of extra small clothes. If your baby is too small or delicate to be dressed, the midwife or nurse can wrap him or her in a tiny shawl or something similar.
“ I brushed his hair and put him in the new cardigan I had bought him. I got to do all the things I’d looked forward to doing, it was my chance to show him all the love I had.” Mother
The midwife or nurse caring for you will usually offer to take photos of your baby. You can also take your own photos. A digital camera is best because it produces lasting images that can be copied and stored on a disc or on a computer. Polaroid photos fade over time.
If you are not sure if you want photos, the midwife or nurse may ask you if she can take some and keep them in the mother’s hospital notes. You, the mother, can ask for them at a later date if you decide that you do want them. Again, this is a very personal choice. If for any reason you don’t want any photos taken, just say so.
“ I decided that it would be better to have a photo I might never look at than to want a photo that I do not have.” Father
If you do want photos, you may also want some of you or your partner with your baby, or all three of you together. Some parents include other family members such as other children and the baby’s grandparents. You may also consider taking photos just of your baby’s hands or feet, and of you or your partner holding them in your hand.
If your baby was one of twins or more, you may want photos of the babies together. This could be important in the future for the surviving twin or triplet.
The mementoes you can collect depend on the stage your pregnancy had reached. They may include, for example, a scan picture, your baby’s cord clamp, a name band, a copy of a section of the monitor trace showing your baby’s heart rate before or during labour, or a cot card. Some parents keep the clothes their baby wore, or the shawl that he or she was wrapped in. You might like to keep a lock of hair if your baby has some. You might also like to ask the midwife or nurse if they can take your baby’s hand and footprints for you.
Some hospitals offer parents a memory booklet in which they can record personal details about their baby and put items such as hand and footprints and photos. You may also like to make your own memory booklet.
Some hospitals offer parents a memory box to store their mementoes in. You could also make your own memory box, or order one from Sands. The Sands memory boxes contain, among other things, two small teddy bears, one that parents can place in their baby’s coffin and the other for them to keep.
As well as the mementoes mentioned above, you may want to keep other things such as photos of the flowers at the funeral and on the grave, the order of service from the funeral, poems, condolence letters, emails and cards, and anything else that helps you to remember your baby.